I was on a call with Nancy the other day, explaining my transformative weight loss program to see if it was right for her. She’d tried so many different solutions and fad diets, she was understandably skeptical about whether my program would work for her.
That’s why I spend so much time with each potential client, walking them through exactly the way my plan works. It’s imperative they understand there’s no “magic” involved – it all comes down to hard work and commitment.
As Nancy ran down the list of things she’d tried, she mentioned the cayenne pepper diet.
“Of course it sounded too good to be true,” she told me. “But my friends insisted that spicy foods aid in weight loss. And I did lose weight…for a few days. But when I started eating real food again, it came right back.”
Of course it did. This is the main issue with most fad diets: they’re completely unsustainable.
Clearly, if instead of eating you drink a liquid concoction and nothing else for a few days, you’ll lose weight no matter what’s in it. But it’s unhealthy, and as soon as you eat you’ll find yourself in Nancy’s situation; the weight will come right back.
As I’ve been telling women for decades, there is no magic solution for losing weight. To lose weight – and keep it off – you have to swap unhealthy habits for healthy ones, and commit to lifelong change.
That said, spices can make healthy foods more appealing, which makes them easier to choose. And there is some scientific evidence that spices can have an impact on factors that influence weight.
Let’s take a look at what science says about the impact of spices on metabolism and general health.
Do spicy foods aid with weight loss?
There is indeed research that suggests that when you add spices to your food, not only are you making it taste better, but it may help accelerate weight loss.
Some research has shown that eating hot peppers increases body heat. And when your body temperature rises, metabolism may become up to 5% faster and fat burning also increases. When these things occur, your body burns calories faster.
In addition to boosting metabolism, spices can help reduce your appetite, decreasing the number of calories you consume. We’ve all heard the old “calories in, calories out” theory, and while there’s more to weight loss than that when you consume less calories it’s far easier to keep your weight in check.
One meta analysis of 20 studies on the potential benefits of capsaicinoids (found in chilli peppers) that involved 563 participants showed that regular consumption of capsaicinoids increased energy expenditure, reduced abdominal fat, and decreased appetite and energy intake.
This information suggests that the use of capsaicinoids as part of a healthy weight loss program can make a difference.
Of course, it’s important to remember that individuals process spices differently. But the effect of decreasing appetite could mean that when you eat spicy foods, you eat less than you would otherwise.
How is metabolism connected to weight?
You hear people talk about fast and slow metabolism all the time, but what does that even really mean?
Metabolism refers to the chemical processes that control all essential body functions. The metabolic rate is how much energy your body burns daily, measured in calories. Another term for metabolic rate is total energy expenditure (TEE).
The overly simplified “calories in, calories out” is problematic when it comes to weight, because the assumption that if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight isn’t always true.
That’s because there are so many factors that impact metabolism. Let’s take a look at the main components of metabolism, the basal metabolic rate (BMR), exercise, and non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis (NEAT).
The BMR is how many calories your body burns just to keep your body systems functioning well. It’s all about survival, and it takes almost three quarters of your total energy expenditure daily.
It’s difficult to determine BMR since there are so many things that can impact it, including genetics, body composition, gender, weight, and age.
NEAT refers to the calories you burn through regular daily activities, both involuntary (like digesting food) and functional (standing up, walking, chewing, etc.) NEAT makes up 20 percent of the metabolism, and is variable.
Obviously, if you spend the day in bed watching Netflix your NEAT will be lower than a day at the office, even if your job requires a lot of desk time. So your basic daily activities do have an impact.
Exercise is anything above and beyond those daily routines. No matter how vigorously you work out, exercise is only about 10 percent of your total metabolism.
So while it does make a difference, the difference isn’t usually enough to prompt weight loss on it’s own. That’s where the other healthy habits come in!
Because metabolism is connected to so many factors, many of which you can’t control, it’s essential to think about those that you can. Adding spice to your meals is absolutely in your control.
And while the impact may be different for each individual, it won’t cause harm (unless, of course, you’re allergic to the spices). Although the impact is small, sometimes every little bit helps!
What other health benefits do spicy foods offer?
Spicing your food up a bit daily may lead to a longer, healthier life. In 2015, one large study showed that mortality rates reduced by 14 percent in those who ate spicy foods six or seven days a week.
Spices may also help reduce inflammation, which is a root cause of many health problems including autoimmune disorders, arthritis, and headaches.
Ayurvedic medicine has used ginger and garlic for centuries to treat these conditions because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
That’s a lot of good reasons to add a little spice to your life!
Spices for Weight Loss
People often think of “hot” foods when talking about the benefits of spicy foods. And these are some of the spices that have been researched in relation to weight loss.
But even if you don’t like the heat, you can add flavor and boost your health with some of the following spices.
Below are some great ways to spice up your recipes. Even a little may go a long way towards improving your health and keeping weight in check!
Cayenne pepper contains the active ingredient capsaicin, known to have an impact on the nervous system, increase feelings of fullness, and increase thermogenesis.
In studies, ¼ teaspoon of red pepper showed an impact on energy intake and expenditure. That may give your recipe more heat than you want, but you can always divide the amount into two different recipes.
Add cayenne to rice, hot sauces, meat seasonings, or to give your smoothie a kick.
Cinnamon doesn’t boost metabolism, but the impact it has on blood sugar can make a big difference in your weight loss journey.
Cinnamon can lower the amount of circulating glucose as well as prompt insulin release to keep blood sugar stable. When levels are well regulated, you won’t experience the hunger and cravings constant highs and lows can induce.
You don’t need much, and there are so many great ways to use cinnamon it shouldn’t be difficult to add it to your diet. Add some to your coffee or tea, sprinkle it on oatmeal, or use it to season meat and vegetables.
The root of this tropical plant is what we use to promote many health benefits, including reducing nausea and aiding digestion.
Research has shown that ginger supplementation also plays a role in decreasing body weight, insulin resistance, and waist to hip ratio. Ginger can interact with some medications, so check with your healthcare provider before making it a regular addition to your recipes.
Cumin has long been used in traditional medicine to treat chronic health conditions.
One small study showed that women who consumed cumin powder lowered their weight, fat mass, waist circumference and BMI – and it also improved cholesterol levels. Cumin is a typical addition to taco seasonings, but can also be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Turmeric contains curcumin, proven to have many different health benefits, including weight loss.
One analysis of research showed that curcumin intake was associated with a significant decrease in weight, BMI and weight circumference. Adding ½ to 1 teaspoon of turmeric to your daily meals can make a difference.
Combine turmeric with black pepper to boost how much your body can absorb. Curry is the obvious dish to add turmeric to, but you can sprinkle it on almost anything. Some prefer to take a daily turmeric supplement.
You probably already have a pepper shaker or grinder on your dining table. Here are some great reasons to use it more intentionally in the food you’re preparing!
Piperine, the active ingredient in black pepper, has been shown to have great health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties. Animal and lab studies have shown that it may also have an impact on weight.
Variety is the spice of life
With so many great spices with demonstrated health benefits, why delay? Adding a little spice to your meals can make dinner more interesting – and just might be the extra boost your body needs to promote the weight loss you desire.
Give it a try — you have nothing to lose except those stubborn pounds!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD